National Gallery of Art Acquires Paintings by Women of the Boston School

The National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, DC, has acquired two additional paintings by women artists of the Boston School, refining its collection of artwork from the male-dominated group known for American Impressionism. The works by Mary Bradish Titcomb and Elizabeth Okie Paxton exhibit a subtle agency within scenes of domesticity in the final years before the 19th Amendment passed.

Like the city itself, the Boston School movement was largely enamored with and influenced by the vibrance and textures of Impressionism, though its artists depicted interiors more often than landscapes. The 2oth-century tradition boasts key players such as Edmund C. Tarbell, Joseph DeCamp, and William McGregor Paxton (Elizabeth’s husband) among others — all of whom routinely included women in their compositions as serene, subordinate, and poised in the Victorian sense as the fight for women’s suffrage persevered. When art education became available to female students in Massachusetts, women who followed the Boston School style began to ever-so-gently reframe gender roles and presentation, nesting such changes within their dedication to craft.

Erica E. Hirshler, a senior curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, said in an interview with the NGA that female painters “sought to join the establishment, not to overthrow it.”

“To prove that they were serious painters, most of Boston’s women artists worked within the aesthetic and social conventions of their day,” Hirshler said.

In Titcomb’s “The Writer” (c. 1912), the model faces away from the viewer as she writes pensively before a disheveled pile of papers, connoting a sense of impassioned professionalism over presentability. Titcomb is remembered as an independent woman of her time as she taught art alongside her coursework in order to support herself before enrolling at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1889 to embark on her professional painting career under the tutelage of Boston School players such as Tarbell, Philip Leslie Hale, and Frank Weston Benson. She never sold “The Writer,” likely due to the personal subject matter of being a woman working to be taken seriously in her field.

On the other hand, Okie Paxton’s “The Breakfast Tray” (c. 1910) simply alludes to the presence of a woman through her belongings instead of including her in the work. In Okie Paxton’s composition, luxuriously rumpled bedding spills over the side of a bed frame, draping over a pair of black heels in front of a chair with a tray of untouched food and drink on its seat. With the suggestion of a morning love affair at the forefront, viewers are left to consider the identity of the woman while viewing her private space in such a state, a contrast to the languid depictions of female models in other paintings attributed to the Boston School.

Titcomb and Okie Paxton establish a sense of true femininity without performance or submissiveness in their paintings of delicate messes. As of April 12, both paintings will dialogue with each other as well as with “Five O’Clock” (c. 1910), a painting by fellow Boston School artist Gretchen Woodman Rogers that the NGA acquired in 2022.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top